Last week, junior reporters Samantha Sugarman and Janet Tam met Chinese food expert Pauline Wong from Towngas Cooking Centre. She taught our junior reporters the best way to stir-fry shredded beef with tri-colour peppers.
Having moved to Hong Kong less than a year ago, Samantha was excited to attend her first Cantonese cooking class. "Learning about Asian cuisine is like peeping through a looking glass into a completely different culture," she said.
Before they started cooking, Pauline explained the importance of knowing where your beef comes from. For this dish, for example, you need a piece of beef fillet, widely available at local markets and supermarkets.
But meat from local and Chinese cattle is always tenser than that from other sources. This is because Chinese slaughterers leave little time for the animals to loosen up before they butcher them, so their muscles contract.
To make sure the shredded beef remains tender when served, a good chef adds baking soda and water during the marinating process, which "relaxes" the beef and makes it juicier.
Speaking of marinating, it is extremely important in Chinese cuisine. Soy sauce is an essential ingredient: dark soy sauce gives a dish its golden colour, while light soy contributes to the saltiness. Sugar is another crucial addition to Chinese marinades.
Another piece of key advice from Pauline is to watch cooking times very closely. It is very easy to overcook beef, and when it happens, the meat becomes rubbery and chewy.
To avoid this, fry the beef in two stages. First, fry until it turns slightly golden. Quickly remove it from the wok, and start frying the vegetables. As soon as the vegetables start to soften slightly, return the beef to the wok, stir quickly, but thoroughly, to evenly distribute the heat and flavours, and plate up quickly.
As someone who is frequently found experimenting in the kitchen, Janet found Pauline's tips particularly useful. "We seldom pay attention to the function of ingredients and seasonings, or to whether our cooking procedure is correct." she said. But Janet added, since the class, she has lots more cooking tricks up her sleeve.
Samantha revealed she's now the chief Chinese chef in the Sugarman family. "Now I can wow my family with an amazing stir-fry just like they would make in a local restaurant," she said.
Towngas Young Master Chef is now open for entries until June 24. If you're a full-time student aged 15 to 20, and have a passion for food, you can enter the contest individually or with a like-minded friend. The champion will win a trip to France, and attend cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu, one of world's most prestigious cooking schools. The runner-up will win a cooking trip to Beijing, and the second runner-up, a cooking course at Hong Kong's Michelin-starred restaurant Cuisine Cuisine.